Why I tell my kids: ‘You break it, you buy it’
There’s no way to sugarcoat this one: My 10-year-old daughter destroyed our $1,000 television.
A few months ago, my daughter woke up in a feisty mood. She came out of her room and announced, “Leave me alone. I’m busy this morning! I’m not going to school today.” For added flourish, she picked up the TV remote and tossed it over her head. The remote spiraled across the room and hit our 60-inch-screen TV right in the kisser.
I turned on the television. It was unusable. And although it was an accident, and she told us she was “so, so sorry,” I vowed: “She’s going to pay for this.” (Well, for some of this at least.)
We couldn’t just assign a payment plan so our tween could reimburse us for the broken boob tube. And given that her weekly allowance is $5, she would be nearly 14-years-old before that was paid off. More importantly, it also would mean giving an adult sized financial burden to a 10-year-old. We wanted to give her a way to experience a 10-year-old’s version of this burden, tough love with a little lesson baked in.
We settled on her owing us $250, roughly one-fourth the total cost of the TV. The money would come from freezing her allowance for six weeks plus a combination of the contents of her piggy bank ($60) and her savings account ( roughly $170 in the bank from gifts from family). It was an amount large enough that she’d feel its burden, but small enough that she could pay a significant portion of the TV cost and still be out of the dog house in less than a year. We also reasoned to her that we are a family of four, and it was fair for her to pay one fourth of the cost of the TV that she ruined.
Ultimately, we wanted to focus on punitive damages rather than making her feel like a “bad girl” by taking away privileges like watching our new TV, eating dessert or using her iPad. We wanted to make her responsible for what her mom and I were now faced with due to her action. My wife and I delivered the decision to our daughter, who sadly handed over her porcine money pot.
Three days after the ruling was delivered to her, she and I were walking down the street. She told me that she recently saw a sparkling headband in a store window and said she would like to buy it, but would have to pass. She seemed unusually Zen about that decision. A few days later, I overheard her on the telephone to a friend. She was declining an invitation and in words that could have been uttered by me or anyone adult, she said: “I really would like to go, but I just don’t have a lot of money right now.”
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